Asbestos, the name for naturally occurring heat-resistant minerals, is an unwelcome material to encounter in your house. Both the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognize asbestos as a health hazard and have set strict regulations around it.
Also unwelcome is the prospect of paying for an expensive asbestos testing company to come into your house, followed by an abatement company to remove the asbestos.
But there are do-it-yourself asbestos testing kits that you can purchase for far less than having a company do the testing. Not all of the kits are completely do-it-yourself; you still need to mail in the samples to a laboratory.
Asbestos testing kits shift the work of taking the samples to you. This saves you money and hands some control of the process back to you. Even if you do eventually call in a testing company, testing kits are a good way to start.
Less expensive than calling in an asbestos-testing company
You control when and where you want to sample
Quick way to check for asbestos
Potential of asbestos contamination
Self tests aren't always the most accurate due to sampling errors
Difficult for inexperienced users to find all sources of asbestos in the home
Where You Might Find Asbestos in Your Home
Finding asbestos within your home is not as clear-cut as it may seem at first. If you crawl into your attic and see gray, fluffy material, you know that it definitely is not fiberglass insulation. But does it contain asbestos?
As it turns out, this suspected asbestos might be harmless blown-in cellulose: insulating pellets made from recycled paper.
What about those innocent-looking exterior cement shingles? They might be a potentially harmful older type of siding called asbestos-cement shingles.
Another material found in attics and walls with a mica-like shine and a gray-brown or silver-gold color may or may not contain asbestos. This is loose-fill insulation called vermiculite, commonly known by the brand name Zonolite. Much, but not all, of the vermiculite insulation sold in North America prior to 1990 contained asbestos fibers.
Common Sources of Asbestos in the Home
How to Use an Asbestos Testing Kit
Some homeowners may decide not to test for asbestos, feeling that the cost of true laboratory testing itself will be too high. While it is possible to spend a hefty sum on full-service lab testing, an easier and less expensive way to ensure that you and your family stay safe is by using an asbestos testing kit.
Generally, asbestos testing kits work in a two-step process. First, after purchasing a low-cost kit at a home improvement center or online, you obtain suspected asbestos from an area of your home. Second, you mail the findings to a laboratory. After a few days, the results are sent back to you.
Sometimes the asbestos testing kit includes both the kit fee and the laboratory fee. Other times, you pay twice: a small fee for the kit, then a larger fee for the lab results. When pricing out asbestos-testing kits, check whether you must pay twice.It also helps to know if a pre-paid mailer is included.
Collecting Suspected Asbestos for the Kit
When collecting either solid and friable materials or dust samples, be sure to take precautions to ensure your safety.
Wear disposable coveralls, gloves, safety glasses, boot covers, and most importantly, respirators equipped with HEPA filters.
With plastic sheeting, seal off all doorways or windows to prevent contaminating other areas.
Keep loose asbestos fibers out of the air by mixing 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent with cool water in a pint-size spray bottle. Liberally spray down the area.
Solid and Friable Materials
Materials that are solid or friable (meaning, crumbly) tend to be less expensive for do-it-yourself asbestos testing. With these materials, you cut out a small sample of the material in question, place it in the provided bag, seal the bag, then mail the sample in the mailer to the laboratory.
Usually a week or two later, the lab reports back to you whether the material is positive or negative for asbestos. Some kits offer the option of paying an extra fee for rush results. Some labs offer a reduced rate for additional samples.
Often, if you can obtain only a sample of dust, the cost of testing increases. Asbestos-testing labs usually will ask you to scoop up as much settled dust as possible to gather 1 teaspoon full.
If you cannot gather that much dust, you should use a damp tissue to wipe the dust and enclose the tissue in a sealable bag. Because asbestos dust sampling requires an electron microscope, the cost is about three times as high as for conventional asbestos testing.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Asbestos - Overview.” Osha.gov. N.p., n.d. Web.